Sunniva Brynnel

Sunniva Brynnel with Accordion

Course Studied: BA (Hons) Music (Jazz)

Year of Graduation: 2012

 Top Career Highlights:

  • Touring in the US with Night Tree and recording our debut album!
  • Recording an all originals album in Helsinki together with Finnish folk piano maestro Timo Alakotila. This album is on Spotify as Sunniva Brynnel & Timo Alakotila Duo!
  • Being a House Band Leader during all the summer festivals at Ängsbacka, Sweden.

Since graduating from Leeds Conservatoire in 2012 with a First Class Honours degree in Jazz, Swedish born composer, pianist and vocalist Sunniva Brynnel has combined work as a performing musician alongside a position as news editor and journalist for Swedish jazz, folk and world music magazine – Lira. Sunniva also currently studies a masters in jazz at the prestigious New England Conservatory in Boston, and she regularly tours in the US and Sweden. We caught up with Sunniva to hear about her experiences since leaving Leeds Conservatoire.


What was your earliest musical experience?

Going to piano lessons at the age of five, and also around that time tagging along to different folk festivals, hearing all kinds of music: African drumming, Bolivian folk music, Swedish traditional fiddle music…

Who/what encouraged you to study music?

My mother, who insisted on the importance of my musical heritage. There is an unbroken line of seven (I believe) female musicians on my mother’s side of the family. My mother is a folk singer, my grandmother was a cellist, my great grandmother was a harpist…

Who/what made you aspire to a career in music?

I would say my piano teacher Mikael Landberg in my hometown of Uddevalla. He always seemed to believe in me, though I wasn’t always doing as I was told – or working on what he told me to practise. Often I’d come to a lesson not having done the homework, but having composed some piece of music instead. I was very inspired during that time. Still am, I guess.

Was there anything in particular that made you choose Leeds Conservatoire?

Whilst still living in Sweden, a friend who lived in Leeds was getting married there, so I came over. After the wedding, we went for drinks in The Wardrobe, and there you have it… Someone at the party told me about the jazz department at Leeds Conservatoire, and I thought – why not! I had studied music full-time a few years by then and was looking around for a suitable degree course. At that time, I had already been living in Ireland for a year as a student, and the idea of moving back to the rainy, green group of islands on the other side of the North Sea didn’t seem like a large step to take.

Also, the fact that I was able to focus almost entirely on my composing within the BA Jazz degree course was important to me; my third year was heaven in that regard! Complete freedom.

What was your favourite thing about living / studying / being a musician in Leeds?

One of the best things about Leeds was the fact that there was quite a lot of folk music around too (I seemed to live at The Grove Inn where it all happened), as well as jazz. I got to meet so many friendly people in the folk scene: bluegrass musicians, Irish folk musicians, even people playing Swedish folk music, and they were all happy to share tunes with me. My musical life was fairly hectic; folk accordionist in the evenings – jazz composer, with my bag overflowing with Sibelius scores by day. 

There were also so many amazing jazz musicians within arm’s reach at the conservatoire – I could grab them in the bar or corridor and they would play my compositions. What an amazing opportunity for a composer!

Last but not least, I had some great one-to-one teachers at the college who inspired me: Jamil Sheriff, Dave Kane, Russ Van den Berg, Rob Mitchell and Jesse Bannister.

Where would you most like to perform / record / have your music played?

For me, it’s not so much about where I’d like to play, rather whom I’d like to play with. There are so many musicians I would like to create music with.

What has your career been like since leaving Leeds Conservatoire?

There have been a few ups and downs since leaving college. Life as a freelance musician/composer can be tough – it is tough! But I get to do what I love, which is worth a lot.

I have ended up working as a music journalist and music reviewer for a number of different Swedish magazines. This is a job which I thoroughly enjoy and it works well combining that with playing gigs. As news editor for Swedish jazz/folk/world and roots magazine Lira for example, I end up writing all sorts of material, and get the chance to keep up to date with new music in Sweden and beyond. In the past years I’ve been fortunate enough to get to interview Chris Potter, Bill Frisell, Tigran Hamasyan and Shai Maestro amongst others. All these musicians inspire me massively.

As a musician, I am still as curious as I was in Leeds. My musical projects include the folk sextet Night Tree (www.nighttreemusic.com), Pajunen/Brynnel Duo, Sunniva Brynnel & Timo Alakotila Duo – as well as many other projects, for example playing/composing music for dancing and theatre.

Currently, I’m loving life in the US, where I am busy studying and gigging, as well as continuing the music journalism work for Lira Music Magazine. 

What has been your greatest achievement?

I’m really happy about the new CD we’re releasing with American/Swedish folk sextet Night Tree in October! It’s mainly got our original music on it, and is produced by Séamus Egan of Solas. Night Tree certainly has its own, unique, sound and that comes through on the album!

If you had one piece of advice for a prospective student, what would it be?

Don’t spend all your time being hung over! Make sure to use the facilities (being mainly your fellow students!) while you are at Leeds Conservatoire. Also, try to get a one-to-one tutor who suits your style, but not too much – challenges and a different perspective can be beneficial!


Sunniva is currently news editor for the magazine Lira, find out more here.

You can also read more about her exploits on her website.

Photo Credit: Cecilia Hedström

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